One of the quickest ways for your day to be ruined is an adverse interaction between your smartphone and nature. It’s easy for it to happen very suddenly, too; a slip of the hand, a sudden downpour while your phone is in an exposed pocket, and you are suddenly looking at an expensive repair or replacement in the space of just a minute.
Smartphones are awesome devices, giving us the power of a computer in the palm of our hand. They’re also very delicate, however. Without external protection, they can fairly easily succumb to even the most simple forces of nature.
Protective devices are helpful for everyday accidents, like dropping a phone into a puddle or a toilet. They’re virtually essential if you’re going to take your smartphone into rougher conditions, like on a camping trip or even on a day hike during which bad weather could roll in.
This guide will walk you through the basics of protecting your phone from the most common forms of elemental damage, and make some recommendations both for protective measures and for recovering the phone if it happens to get caught out in the weather.
The two big fears of smartphone users are dropping the phone in some sort of pool of water, or getting caught out in the rain with no protection and nothing but a flimsy pocket to cover the phone. Certain new models, like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Sony Xperia Z5, now boast their own natural water resistance. Stress testing by major consumer publications has revealed that these phones are far from being waterproof, however. If they get submerged, they still stand a very good chance of being severely damaged or rendered entirely inoperable.
Unless you’re in the desert in the middle of a dry season, a waterproof case is never a bad idea. A formal rating system that is becoming widely adopted for phones and cases is the Ingress Protection Scale, or IP for short. It rates the relative level of protection from both dust and water. Devices with a rating of five have good resistance to the elements, and if this rating is applied to a phone it is an assurance that any dust that gets in the case won’t stop it from operating. In terms of both phones and cases, a rating of six means that the case or shell is completely dustproof and offers very good protection from water, enough that getting caught in the rain shouldn’t be a problem. For a phone or case to be considered waterproof and fully protected against continual immersion in water, it needs an IP rating of eight.
It doesn’t take rain or a pool to ruin a phone, however. Sweat generated while exercising is often a surprise phone killer. Even grabbing a phone with a hand that is still wet from washing can get enough water in the case to cause damage. A small amount of water inside the case can cause corrosion, which will gradually spread and eventually cause the phone to fail. Once corrosion takes hold, the phone is more or less doomed.
We touched on dust being a problem in the previous section, but sand is a bigger threat that can cause phone problems much more quickly. Trips to the beach with the phone are the most common cause of sand working its way in via openings like headphone jacks and USB ports. You can usually remove sand with a q-tip or with a paper clip that has tape wrapped around one end, but a protective case helps keeps this problem from developing in the first place.
Unfortunately, a case can’t do much to protect a phone from heat. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in this area. Phones should definitely not be left in cars during hot days for extended period, or perched on a windowsill that is in direct sunlight while they are charging, as the extreme heat can damage them. A phone may also overheat if it is stuffed in an airtight pocket and has apps running in the background that are taking up a lot of processing power and memory.
If a phone feels like it’s overheating, don’t throw it in a refrigerator or freezer under any circumstances. This will cause condensation to form internally, which causes corrosion, which eventually means a dead phone. If the phone feels abnormally hot, simply shut it off and keep it at room temperature while it cools.